Root Cellaring- Fresher Longer Food Storage

Root vegetables are named as such due to their underground plant parts that are eaten. They are easy to store and with just a few simple steps you can enjoy a bountiful harvest throughout the winter months.

  • Root crops, including potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, winter radishes, kohlrabi and parsnips, adapt best at near freezing with a high relative humidity.
  • Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and onions, have a long storage life. They require minimal preparation before storing.
  • Root crops store best where they are grown until there is a danger of soil freezing. Postpone harvesting by tilling the soil over the shoulders of carrots and beets to protect them from freezing. If straw and soil are piled over the row as insulation, harvest may be delayed even longer.
  • Bring most vegetables and fruits into the root cellar immediately after harvesting. Some vegetables, however, such as onions and garlic, need to be dried in the sun for a week before dry-cellar storage. Squash and pumpkins need two weeks in the sun to develop a hard rind, and they need a warm cellar. Sweet potatoes also need to be cured.
  • Freezing is fine for some fresh vegetables and destructive to others, like potatoes. However, you will want to completely avoid repeated freezing and thawing that can take place in root cellars from a warm spell to a cold spell and back to warm. You can solve this problem if you build a section of your root cellar that never freezes during these wavering spells on either side of the winter deep-freeze.
  • Store onions near freezing but with a low relative humidity to discourage neck rot.
  • Parsnips will withstand freezing. Leave part of the crop in the ground and dig in the spring when the flavor has greatly improved.
  • It is important to time your final harvest for the latest possible date. As well as planting vegetables as early as possible in the spring to be able to eat them in late spring or early summer, plant a sizable crop later than usual so that their peak arrives only in the nick of time before the killing frost. This late crop will represent your fresh supply of food throughout the winter.
  • Take into account that vegetables planted later than normal will grow slower in the cooler months of fall.
  • Kale and collards can be left in the garden long after the first fall frost. Harvest as needed until the foliage finally succumbs to cold weather. Wind protection will prolong its usefulness.
  • Celery and late cabbage may be harvested after the frost has stopped their growth. Pull celery with its roots attached. Cut cabbage and remove the loose outer leaves.
  • Plant lots of potatoes and carrots as they might last 4-6 months, but you would not want to plant too much broccoli since it only keeps for a couple weeks.
  • Leafy crops such as celery and cabbage may also be stored. Store them by themselves — they give off ethylene gas while in storage, which has proven detrimental to other vegetables.
  • Celery may be harvested and stored directly in trenches that are dug for that purpose. Pull the celery plants and pack them upright in the trench. Cover with paper, boards and soil. They will root, bleach, tenderize and develop a nutty flavor when removed in late December.
  • Many cool-weather crops taste better after frost has nipped them. Among these are parsnips, salsify (also called “oyster plant”), kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, and Chinese cabbage.
  • Potatoes grown in sandy soils last longer in storage than those grown in heavy soils.
  • Fruits and vegetables grown in soil with high potash levels store better and longer than others. Wood ashes are a good source of potash.
  • Store the ashes all winter long where the wind won’t blow them away, and any manure your animals provide can be collected at the first thaw, but don’t over-dose your garden soil.
  • Beets 4-5 months
  • Broccoli 1-2 weeks
  • Brussels Sprouts 3-5 weeks
  • Cabbage (long keeper)
  • Chinese Cabbage 1-2 months
  • Carrots 4-6 months
  • Cauliflower 2-4 weeks
  • Celery (long keeper)
  • Chives (not a root-cellar crop)
  • Collards 1-2 weeks
  • Cucumbers 2-3 weeks
  • Eggplant 1-2 weeks
  • Horse Radish (long keeper)
  • Jerusalem Artichokes 1-2 months
  • Kohlrabi (long keeper)
  • Leeks N/A
  • Onions (good keeper)
  • Parsnips 1-2 months
  • Pepper (good keeper)
  • Sweet Potatoes (long keeper)
  • Potatoes 4-6 months
  • Pumpkin (good keeper)
  • Radishes 2-3 months
  • Rutabagas 2-4 months
  • Salsify (good keeper)
  • Soybeans (long keepers)
  • Squash 4-6 months
  • Tomatoes 1-2 months
  • Turnips (long keepers)

The following are root-cellar products that are best stored in cold and very moist conditions (32-40 º F and 90-95% relative humidity): Beets, collards, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots, turnips, radishes, rutabagas, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, celery, salsify, celeriac, parsley, Brussels sprouts, leeks, and kohlrabi.

The following products do best in the same temperatures but at a slightly reduced humidity (80-90%): Potatoes, endive, escarole, cabbage, cauliflower, quince, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, and grapes.

The following do best in 40-45º F cellars with a relative humidity of 85-90%: Cucumbers, cantaloupe, eggplant, tomatoes, watermelon, and sweet peppers.

Reduce the temperature and humidity of the following vegetables (35-40 º F and 60-70%): Garlic, onions and green soybeans in the pod.

The following need high temperatures and lower humidity (50-60 º F and 60-70%): Hot peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, and green tomatoes.

Very Susceptible to Frost:
Cucumbers, Eggplant, Lettuce, Squash, Sweet Peppers, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Pumpkins.
Moderately Susceptible to Frost:
Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage (young), Carrots, Cauliflower, Escarole, Garlic, Onions, Celery, Spinach, Parsley, Peas, Radishes.
Least Susceptible to Frost:
Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage (mature), Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Parsnips, Salsify, Turnips

For squashes, sweet potatoes and pumpkins shelves near furnace afford good storage.

For squashes, sweet potatoes and pumpkins shelves near furnace afford good storage.

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Root Barrels & Storage Mounds

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Kali S Winters